Although I tried to hide it from Talia, I was seething after we got back from our walk and encounter with the two cops.
There weren't any other werewolves in the neighborhood, so it's not as though someone called the cops on Talia in a case of mistaken identity. Sure Talia looked a little unkempt, but it certainly was an improvement over when the grubby beggar wolf broke into my house.
And speaking of- where the fuck were these cops when Talia actually was violating criminal statutes by breaking into my home in the dead of night anyway?
More to the point, I'm not the kind of guy who would feel the need to hire a prostitute. However, one of my neighbors clearly thinks otherwise.
Fuck that shit.
The rest of the night is pretty quiet, my seething notwithstanding. It occurs to me that I'm going to have to get Talia some new clothes and a haircut sooner rather than later instead of nursing a few more weeks out of her threadbare rags or my oversized hand-me-downs. Naturally, that was going to cost money, which is pretty tight right now. But still- outside of groceries and lodging, it's not as though I was paying Talia anything- nor was she really asking for much from me. Guess the time had come to bite the bullet.
Before heading off the bed, I thumbed through the Yellow Pages to see if I could find a hair place that specialized in mamonoand maybe set up an appointment for Talia. It seems counterintuitive, but paper-based media like phone books, magazines, catalogs and newspapers made a comeback thanks in large part to many species of mamono being unable to effectively use electronic devices like tablets and smartphones because of their large claws.
I see an ad in the phonebook for a place called Kejorou Cuts that isn't too far away and manage to book an appointment for the next afternoon through their rather slick looking website that seems to be little more than a slideshow of Glamour headshots of different mamono- presumably some of their satisfied custimers.
The next day, I managed to leave work a little early so I can take Talia to her appointment at this Kejourou's place. On the way there, we went by a strip mall that had a store called Cupid's Quiver which claimed to specialize in apparel for beastmen type mamono. Since we had time, I decided we might as well stop and take a look around.
Upon entering, we were greeted by two clerks, a Kikimora and a Mad Hatter. The two of them exchanged a knowing glance that seemed to indicate it was the Hatter's turn to attend to the customers in the otherwise deserted shop.
"Good afternoon and welcome to Cupid's Quiver. How may I assist you today?" she asked as she approached the two of us.
"Hi- we're looking around for some new clothes for her." I tell the saleswoman.
"Then you've certainly come to the right place." she assures me and Talia. "Did you have anything specific in mind?"
The wolf-girl looks as though she's going to speak up, although she hesitates at first.
"Do you have any of those short plaid skirts, white blouses and sweater vests?" Talia asks the saleswoman a bit nervously before turning to me. "You know, the ones so many of those human girls are wearing in all the pictures and videos on your tablet?"
I thought Talia's request seemed oddly specific until I realized that I let Talia borrow my tablet to look up recipies the other day. I wasn't sure if she had ever had the chance to use one before, but even if she hadn't, she looked like she got the hang of it pretty quick. Quick enough to find my playlist......and apparently all those pictures of models dressed up in plaid schoolgirl uniforms getting spanked over the knee- usually by 'classmates' or an older woman.
My face has to be beet red as it's dawning on me that Talia has seen the treasure trove of images depicting naughty uniformed schoolgirls getting disciplined on my tablet and in the browser history. The thing is, it wasn't as though Talia was being crafty or sneaky- she had all afternoon for multiple days at a time to go through my tablet's contents. Which makes me a dumbass for not cleaning up some of the files and browser history before handing it off to her.
"Too bad you didn't bring the tablet with you- I mean you must've saved HUNDREDS of those pictures and I could show her what I was talking about." She was a good enough actress that I thought she had been asking an innocent question at first, but there was that growing smirk of hers as she continued. "Were those girls some sort of delinquents? Because an awful lot of them seemed like they were in trouble and getting spanked pretty hard and-"
"Blouses! What do you have in the way of blouses....?" I quickly interrupt Talia.
The Hatter saleswoman realized what's going on and stifles a demure little giggle before addressing the werewolf. Off in the distance, the Kikimora salesgirl appears to be grinning and looking away.
"Well, we may not have any skirts quite like what you just described, but we do have some pleated skirts that I'm sure would look teriffic on you!" the Hatter saleswoman says to Talia, guiding her to some shelves stocked with folded up skirts.
When Talia finished up at Cupid's Quiver, I wasn't quite one of those comically overburdened guys carrying bags and bags of new clothes like some sort of pack mule from the old Sunday comic strips, but Talia certainly didn't leave Cupid's Quiver empty-handed, either. She wore a new pleated black skirt, some open toed shoes and a grey tank top on her way out. Talia also got another tank top, some shorts, a bikini, some new underwear and a blouse.
As it turns out, Kejourou Kuts didn't have a Kejourou present that day. At least one that I saw- I'm guessing that was a marketing gimmick or an absentee owner lending her likeness to the enterprise. Sure enough, it was a salon that catered almost exclusively to mamono. However, it was much larger and a little fancier than I had expected.
I had never been anywhere remotely like this and judging from the look of wonder and confusion on her face, neither had Talia.
The building's interior was modern, spacious and spartan with dance music blaring from speakers in the corners.
Talia's ears were twitching alot, although I'm not sure if that was because of nerves or the rather loud music. The two of us make our way to a large cirular desk seemingly in the middle of it all. Looking up at us from her seat as though she could hardly be bothered was a mantis receptionist.
"Hi! I think we have an appointment for this afternoon!" I loudly tell the dispassionate bug mamono. She hardly blinks, but instead of saying anything right away, another mamono speaks up over the din of the music.
"Hello hello! What can I do for you today?" a way too chipper voice calls out to greet us. The voice belongs to a lean, tow-headed androgynous succubus in a white smock and a nametag that reads FRANZI.
"Yeah...hi. We had an appointment for this afternoon...." I begin to say.
"Oh?" she asks, looking beyond me and at the now-bashful werewolf. "You must be Talia, my 3:30."
Talia nods timidly.
"Don't worry honey!" the blonde says. "You're in the very best of hands. I'll have you looking like a new woman before you know it!"
"You can have a seat over there while I work my magic...." the stylist tells me almost dismissively, pointing to a row of seats along the wall.
This Franzi, who just screams Alp!, then gently guides Talia to a seat near a sink and mirror up against the wall as though the wolf is a lost and frightened child.
The minutes went by like hours as I was waiting, thumbing through back issues of the Mamono-Human Integration league's glossy newsletter. Some of the articles were most likely meant to reassure humans like me about the presence of mamono, but instead seemed to have the opposite effect with me. With headlines like Minimizing Your Exposure to Alarune Pollen This Spring or Five Things You Need to Know About The Jinko's Heat Cycle, I was starting to have my doubts about letting one of these Mamono into my home. It seemed to be kind of like those damn women's magazines at the checkout counter only geared towards women who could efforlessly tear through steel with their claws or had a spider-like lower body about the size of a Honda Fit.
I was about ready to re-read the same damn advice column written by some prissy lilim when I noticed someone was standing in front of me. I looked up and saw that it was the alp stylist, although I wasn't sure how long she had been standing there.
"I think we're all set here." she says, handing me a slip of paper.
Oh fuck me.....the bill.
My heart plummets as I see the amount. Jesus Christ on a leaky pontoon boat, I just picked a name out of a phone book- I didn't know that I booked Talia an appointment at the city's most exclusive salon for mamono. Of course, it's not like I can ask them for hot glue Talia's hair back on and ask for a refund.
"I even included Replica Runes at no extra charge...." Franzi continues.
"R-replica runes!? What are you talking about!?" I ask, trying to keep my cool.
"That's a specialty we offer our beastmen clientele." the Alp begins to explain. "You see, because of the fur on their forearms and legs, that's less room for them to be able to properly accomodate pleasure runes. So what we do is shear most of the fur down before applying much more intricate designs onto the forearms or calves."
"What kind of designs?" I ask, not really sure I want to hear the answer.
"Well, I'm all done with your little wolfy spitfire, so you can see for yourself."
"She's not mine...." I seethe as I get up and follow him. She's not my wife and more to the point she's not some plaything that I'm playing dress-up with- although I'm not sure why I suddenly decided to hold my tongue in the presence of the flamboyant Alp.
Talia's hair was about the same length as it was before, but her auburn hair was now sporting a feathered pixie cut. As good as it looked, it was clear that wasn't why the blonde Alp had taken so long.
Like a proud artist unveiling his masterpiece, the ostentatious and genderbent succubus can't wait to show off the designs that are now shorn into Talia's legs and forearms.
The Alp stylist left the fur just below her knees and elbows mostly untouched, but beneath that, the fur was shorn relatively short. The net effect was that it looked like a little mane where the fur tapered off to flesh on each arm and leg. I could see on each of her calves a diamond pattern with what looked like a pair of smaller diamonds radiating out like a compass- the 'north' and 'south' ones each tipped with what looked like a small arrowhead.
"Jeez, Talia...." I chuckle self-consciously. "I almost didn't recognize you for a second."
"What do you think?" she asked as she did a little priouette, her newly acquired black skirt twirling.
I can see that attention has been given to her tail as well. It looks fuller and more lustrous than before and the jagged copper-frosted tip is now more prominent.
"Not bad." I say, trying to get a better look at the patterns the stylist added.
In all honesty, I was impressed. The thing is, my degree of 'impressed' wasn't quite commensurate with the figure that was on the bill.
Almost as if she sensed this, the androgyenous succubus spoke up.
"What do you mean not bad? I'd say I've outdone myself, and you need to get your jaw off the floor, buster." the Alp said, nudging me. "Honestly, you really need to take better care of that tail."
"But...." Talia pouted as she turned around and tried grabbing her own tail, which proved surprisingly elusive. "I can't really...."
"I wasn't talking to you, sweetie, I was talking to him." the Alp nods at me.
"Oh come on...." I begin to protest.
"Don't give me that!" the stylist admonishes me. "After all she does around the house, it's the least you could do-"
"No no! Don't say-" Talia tried shushing the stylist.
"What the hell? I don't know what she's told you, but she's getting free room and board in exchange for some doing cooking and light housework." I tell the stylist as I'm looking reproachfully at the petite werewolf.
"Riiiight..." the alp says skeptically.
"Hey- I'm the one who hauls tractor trailers full of hot fucking garbage and recycling all damn day. I'm the one brings home the bacon and- wait....why am I even arguing this with you?"
"That may be true, but she has needs too. And as long as you have a mamono under your roof, you need to realize that some degree of intimacy is part of-" the stylist began before Talia cuts her off.
"Stop! The both of you......you're making a scene." Talia says at a normal volume, but with more than a hint of impatience before turning to the flamboyant Alp.
"Franzi- It's not what you think it is. You probably can see his aura just as well as I can.." She jerks her thumb towards me before getting up on her tip toes to give the blonde stylist a peck on the cheek. "Thanks for everything, but I need to get going."
"Of course, honey. If there's anything else you need, you just call me." the Alp says to the werewolf as me and Talia head out.
"So what were you girls gabbing about anyway?" I ask dourly on the drive home.
"Franzi.....saw some of the bruises and scars and...." she paused as she turned to look out the passenger side window. ".....wanted to know if you were the one that was behind them...."
"What!?" I sputter. "If I did those things to you, why would I then turn around and take you to what has to be the most expensive mamono salon this side of the Mississippi River!?"
"That's what I tried telling her.....but I guess she wanted to make absolutely sure." she said.
More awkward silence. There wasn't even any baseball on the radio- just the two announcers speculating whether or not they could get tonight's road game in ahead of a Texas-sized thunderstorm. Magic 8-Ball sez "Outlook Not So Good".
"Joseph?" Talia asked me after a few moments.
I looked over and could see that she's smiling. This wasn't one of her smart-ass smirks she has when after she's wiped a booger from my nose or telling complete strangers about the cache of naughty schoolgirl and spanking fetish pictures stored on my tablet, either.
"It's nice to have someone worry about me for a change. Both you and Franzi."
I glance over at her, still a little bit in denial that I was captivated by her blue-green eyes and the warmth radiating from that smile of hers.
"Hey now, I'm not too worried about you, tho'." I tell her. "You seem like you can take care of yourself."
"Still- it's too bad Franzi went full-fledged Alp." Talia muses. "It would've been nice having two guys fighting over me."
I scoff derisivley. If it was a fight between me and Franzi she wanted, I would've gladly choked the shit out of the Alp stylist over the bill. "If Franzi was gonna fight me over you, I don't think he would've turned into an Alp to begin with...."
"Don't ruin my daydream!" the werewolf scolds me as she gently punches my shoulder. But instead of withdrawing her hand completely, I can feel her claws gently resting on the crook of my elbow.
"But Joseph? Thank you...." she says quietly as I continue the drive home.
On the way back, I suggested we grab a bite to eat but Talia was insistent that she was the one who makes dinner tonight.
Almost as soon as we got home, she was off like a shot, milling around the kitchen and rummaging through the drawers for bowls and pots and pans. Not in a hurry, I sauntered off to the bathroom, took care of business there and washed up.
Not too surprisingly, I once again heard music coming from the kitchen. Between looking up recipies, my playlist and the cache of naughty schoolgirls getting spanked images, Talia seemed to have gotten the hang of my tablet pretty quick.
Heading towards the kitchen, I listened in and could tell that Talia was once again singing along. After a few seconds, an ominious, rhythmic chiming gave the song away as Cities in Dust by Siouxise and the Banshees.
Sure enough, I round the corner and there's the wolf-girl heedlessly swaying along to the 80's post-punk English band as she's checking the oven and preparing something on the stovetop.
And of course. she's taking this opportunity to howl along with Siouxsie Sioux.
"We found you hiding, we found you lying
Choking on the dirt and sand
Your former glories and all the stories
Dragged and washed with eager hands"
And of course, it did not surprise me in the least that Talia really gets into the chorus, her head turned upwards as her ears flatten against her freshly cut and styled hair.
But ooohhhhhh oh, your city lies in du-awoooooooooooo-st, my friend
But ooohhhhh oh, your city lies in du-awoooooooooooo-st, my friend
Instead of getting huffy or indignant upon realizing her performance was being watched by me, Talia actually did a little curtsy when she saw me.
"Not bad, but Siouxsie Sioux did it better." I say as I give her a subdued golf-clap style round of applause.
"Shush! Don't you have anything that's newer than 1989 on here?" she chides me as she throws a wadded up dish towel at me.
"Hey....Social Distortion is newer than that."
"You have one song from them on there and it's a Johnny Cash cover!"
"It's a flawless cover! And there should be Johnny Cash doing a cover of an even newer Nine Inch Nails song..." I harrumphed. "Anyway, when's dinner gonna be ready, Ms Music Critic?"
Dinner was stir-fried shrimp and scallops with white rice that we both made pretty quick work of. While Talia was tidying up in the kitchen, I thought I'd see if they ever managed to get tonight's ballgame in. Turns out they were about four innings into the game in a depressingly wet and empty ballpark. Still, they needed to get five innings in to make it an official game and it was looking touch-and-go at the time. Vazquez was making the other team's pitcher work extra-hard to get out of the inning, getting a ten pitch at-bat with a runner on second and two out in a scoreless tie. The gifted Dominican hitter struck out to end end inning on pitch #11 when I heard some footsteps coming up from behind me.
I look up from the TV screen. I'm not missing much aside from a hokey car wash ad with a hokey jingle that looked like it was shot on someone's camcorder circa 1985.
"I was wondering if you could help me with something." she says meekly.
"I might. What is it?"
"Well....." Talia begins to say nervously. "Th-they say that flaxseed oil can...uh...encourage growth for uh....certain....." she trails off.
"You'll have to speak up." I tell her.
"They say that flaxseed oil can help with the growth of breast tissue." the wolf-girl blurts out.
Well now- I remember her asking for flaxseed oil on the grocery list, but I figured that Talia might have some culinary application in mind. Even though she's a mamono, this was kind of unexpected.
"And you want me to help you.....how?"
"I thought maybe.....you....could.....um....you know...help me apply it."
The wolf-girl's face is roughly the same shade of crimson as most cities' fire trucks by now as she's looking away from me now. "Could you help me apply the flaxseed oil.......to......my....chest?"
Oh Jesus....this has got to be the most awkward attempt at seducing anyone in the history of awkward attempts at seducing anyone.
"This isn't about that salamander cop from the other day, is it? Because I wasn't checking her out..." I try and reassure her. It's not like I was her boyfriend or husband, but the poor wolf-girl clearly had some sort of inferiority complex about her chest.
"No....that's not it."
"Well.....I'm looking and I don't see either one of your arms in a sling. So why exactly do you need my help?"
"It's...just that.....the oil gets caught in the fur along my....hands...if I apply it myself. It gets kind of messy."
Fair point, actually.
"Hang on a sec, Talia...." I say as I reluctantly get up from the sofa and head out to the kitchen. Her face brightens for a second when I return from the kitchen, but it's short lived as I toss her a pair of plus sized rubber dishwashing gloves big enough to accommodate her hand/paw/claws without getting them coated in oil.
She looks at the gloves and then at me, putting two and two together.
"You're a jerk, you know that?" she huffs as she gets ready to storm out of the room.
Honestly, this is just awkward. I would've been more willing to indulge the wolf-girl if she had been more creative in her attempts to seduce me, but.......I don't know. Am I supposed to give her a mulligan after this?
The diminutive werewolf stomps about three paces before I call out to her.
"What!?" she almost snarls, not bothering to conceal her impatience.
"Is......is what that cop said the other night true? You know- about you not having any spirit energy......"
"Yeah- the only spirit energy I've ever had was some gross synthetic blend. What about it?" she asked churlishly as she had suddenly found the floorboards fascinating.
I came right out and asked her. "So you're a virgin, then?"
"Yes!" she snapped impatiently.
"Talia- I don't think that's anything to be ashamed of...." I begin to tell her.
"You don't understand! It's not the same as it is with you humans...." she protested. "You think it's this great yardstick of chastity and purity, but to us.....to us, it just means that I'm undesirable."
"C'mon.....don't be so down on yourself, Talia."
The wolfgirl flaps around the rubber dishwashing gloves I gave her. "Then why won't you help me?" she whines petulantly.
"Talia, I......" I wasn't sure where to begin. "I don't want you thinking you need to re-pay any favors from me with your body."
"Look, Talia- if I helped you out for no other reason than I expected you to sleep with me in return, do you know what that makes me?"
"A fucking asshole. No wait....scratch that- a limpdick loser asshole who could only get a girl to sleep with him because he's holding something over her head. Like blackmail....or emotional blackmail. "Oh hey- I got you a new blouse, so that clearly entitles me to bang you whenever I want" I say, lowering my voice an octave, mimicking parties unknown as I spat. "I fucking hate people like that, and I don't want to end up like one of those."
The wolf-girl was silent and still gazing at the floorboards.
"Look at me, Talia." I said.
She looks up and once again, I am nothing short of riveted by those blue-green eyes of hers.
"I don't want you giving up your virginity because I gave you a cup of soda or bought you some new clothes. I wanted you to stay here in return for doing some cooking and light housework......that's all I ask. No more, no less. I stand by that- all right?"
"If you say so....." she mumlbes softly before walking off. She doesn't sound very happy, but she seems to understand.
Long story short, work sucked the next day. The facility I was supposed to drop a load of scrap cardboard off at was having some sort of labor dispute, with striking employees walking off the job and forming a picket line across the entrance.
After spending much of the afternoon waiting to get in, it was pretty apparent that the picket line wasn't going to go away anytime soon and I had to carefully manuever the rig so that I could turn around and head back to our hub. But as soon as I park the truck, the manager and dispatcher say they wanted to have a few words with me.
Basically, those few words were to accuse me of sandbagging and using the strike as an excuse to pad my hours. Instead of telling them to kindly fuck off and taking a piss in the World's Best Boss mug on the district manager's office, I calmly reminded them that some of these union guys have long memories and that crossing the picket line in a truck with our name on it that afternoon would be an open invitation to have our truck's tires slashed, cinderblocks chucked at the windshield or sugar dumped into the fuel tanks in no particular order.
Their response seems to be skepticism and that I exaggertated or somehow fabircated the whole thing- like I either made it up completely or hired some extras to wave around picket signs from the nearby Operator's Union local.
Shit like this is why there's a turnover rate of more than 90% in our industry I grumble quietly as the two of them lecture me for the umpteenth time how that load is my resposnibility once it leaves the yard. I don't like this job, I don't want this job, leaving my old job to come here was a mistake but I kind of need it after racking up a big bill taking Talia to the salon and buying her some decent clothes- at least if I don't want to dip into my savings.
The funny thing is that despite management accusing me of padding my hours, I left about 40 minutes earlier than usual. I sure could use a bite to eat, but Talia is used to me coming home a little later and probably hasn't even started making dinner yet.
"I think I know why your so jumpy and on edge lately." she begins almost as soon as I walk through the door. Christ, I hope she hasn't been reading those insipid Mamon-Human Integration League newsletters I was stuck with at the salon.
"I guess Mister Truck Driver is something of a ladies man, hmm?" she asks slyly.
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"My nose never lies. It's faint, but I can smell another woman who's been here alot..... human and a little younger than you, I'm guessing. That's probably why you're so jumpy lately- you're not sure how well to explain my presence to your human lady friend. Or friends."
What the fuck? I spurned her awkward advances at me the other night, so she's going to try and get back at me by needling me about my love life- or lack thereof.
"What's it to you?" I ask her tersely, my hostile tone unexpectedly wiping that smirk off of her face.
"Nothing....I just thought-" she began to say as her ears droop.
"You thought what? Between my glamorous day job of hauling scrap paper and garbage by the truckload and paying off a mortgage worth almost as much as this house, I was hosting sex parties like this is the Playboy mansion?"
"No- I just..."
"What business is it of yours?" I almost snarl. "I didn't let you in to my home just so you could make fun of my personal life...."
"I wasn't making fun of anything- it's just that you seem...." she began to say defensively, but I was in no mood to hear her out.
"How long have you been here?" I ask her curtly. "And how many other women have I brought home in that time?"
"N-none..." she says, eyes downcast.
"Right- take that number and multiply it by....let's say....five. Five times zero is still ZERO..."
"Jospeh, I'm sorry....."
"You know- it's not too late for me to kick your ass back out on the street, and that's EXACTLY what I'll do if you want to keep on butting into my personal life..."
Immediately, I wish I could've un-said that as I see Talia's featuers droop even further, both saddened and a little worried at my outburst. Talia had been a nearly ideal housemate these past couple of weeks and yet here I was threatening to throw her out over what she thought was some playful ribbing on her part.
"It's still a sore subject for me, all right?" I said, still unable to muster an apology.
Talia's ears were still drooped as she looked away, nodding slightly.
The uneasy silence lingered between us for several long moments before I spoke up. On the tip of my tongue was an apology or a "Talia, I didn't mean that", but my pride and anger wouldn't allow me to push it beyond my lips.
"So what do you have planned for dinner?" I ask- perhaps the most awkwardly transparent attempt ever to change the subject on my part. Still, I had been looking forward to dinner ever since getting yelled at by management this afternoon.
Talia said nothing right away, but fished something out from the drawer.
She walks towards me and presses a piece of paper into my hand as she continues her way down the hall. It's a take-out menu from Pazzuri's Pizza.
"That's going to be between you and Pazzuri's. I just lost my appetite..." Talia says coldly, not even bothering to look at me while walking away.
The door to her room slams shut and after a few minutes, I'm absently dialing the family-run pizzariea and ordering a 14 inch half cheese and Deluxe meat galore pie to be delivered.
After I deplete the last of my cash paying and tipping the Pazzuri's delivery guy, I knock on the door to Talia's room.
"I told you I'm not hungry!" the wolf girl growled from the other side.
Part of me wanted to coax her out by letting her know how good a Pazzuri's pizza pie was and part of me was half seriously contemplating apologizing to her.
Instead, I figured I should leave well enough alone for now and left the wolf-girl to fume. It was a good pie, but it would've been much nicer if I had someone to share it with.
"Talia- c'mon....wake up!" I call out before heading out to work the following morning, knocking on her door after I had showered, shaved and brushed my teeth.
My only response is a groggy "No..." from the other side.
I figured she was going to be even more difficult after I blew up at her like that the other night. I dismissed it as the wolf-girl holding a grudge against me until I heard her moan "No....no....no...." repeatedly. I didn't give it too much thought at first, but now it sounded as though she was in pain or scared.
I go to check on her, ready for the wolf-girl's wrath. It would be a hell of a time for me to discover that she sleeps in the nude. She didn't- or at least she still had a sheet over her.
Instead, she's still asleep, but feverishly clawing or gripping at something.
"No! Zh-Zhala......stay away...." she murmurs. This is followed by a pained series of yelps from the slumbering wolf-girl.
Oh shit...she's not even awake. Talia's having a nightmare. I'm not sure what to do in situations like this, but I figure know it can't go on.
"Talia....hey! C'mon...." I gently shake her. This does nothing to diminish her thrashing and pained yipping.
"GET AWAY FROM ME, ZHALA!" she shouts.
"Talia!" I yell out a little more sharply as I continue shaking her. "Wake up, Talia! You're having a bad dream..."
Instead of waking up right away, Talia lets out a low, guttural growl.
"Stop it! STOP IT!!" she murmurs between growls, her eyes still firmly shut. Before I can say or do anything, I feel something hot and sharp pierce my forearm.
Talia just bit me.
"Ow.....Talia....stop it! You're hurting me! You're hurting me..." I call out as I try pulling my arm away. She's clamped on there pretty good and I realize that if I pull too hard, her fangs are just going to tear open my arm even more.
The petite werewolf lets out another growl before abrubptly stopping. Her eyes suddenly shoot wide open and she begins breathing rapidly as her jaws release my arm.
"Wh-where am I?" Talia asks in a panicky tone. She looks around before she sees the blood trickling down my forearm. "Oh....Joseph.....did I-"
I don't know why I did what I did. Instead of recoiling in fear or pain, I gently slipped my arm around the frightened, restless werewolf and embraced her.
"Hey now....You're OK, Tailia.....just....take it easy." I said reassuringly.
"Joseph- your arm....what did I do?" she begins to say.
"You were having a bad dream, but it's over now..." I give her a gentle squeeze. "You'll be OK...."
"Joseph....I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to...." Talia buries her face in my chest.
"It's all right.....you're safe now."
I feel moisture. Suddenly feel the she-wolf's petite body is now shaking like a leaf as she returns my embrace as best she can.
"Please......don't be mad at me, Joseph. I'm trying so hard. Please don't hate me."
The poor wolf-girl is in tears.
"I know Talia....and I appreciate it. I absolutely do. I'm not mad at you...."
The pain from her bite is just a distant throbbing as I pull her close. I felt strangely helpless knowing that even in her sleep, it was so hard for Talia to find some peace of mind. A thought occurs to me that makes me a little uneasy- I may be responsible for this. My threatening to boot her back out onto the street easily could have prompted whatever nightmare she was waking up from just now.
"I don't hate you, Talia. Don't talk like that...okay?"
The wolf-girl dabs at her eyes as she seems to regain her composure, letting me go.
"Are you OK now?" I ask her.
"Dummy...." she gently smacks my shoulder before gently grabbing my arm around where she had bitten me. "I'm not the one who's bleeding."
"It's not too bad...." I try reassuring her. A little bit of a fib on my part- it hurt like hell, but I was more startled than anything.
"Come on, Joseph..." she said, swinging her legs out of bed and guiding me by my arm to the bathroom. For the first time, I can see that she's wearing one of my old tee shirts while her legs are bare. I'm not sure if she had on any panties underneath that and this wasn't really a good time to ask.
When we got to the bathroom, Talia looked puzzled for a moment before remembering the medecine cabinet was behind the mirror, popping it open and pulling out some gauze and iodine- she must've remembered where I kept this from her first night here.
After a moment or two, the werewolf manages to open the packet of guaze and dab it in iodine before applying it to the bite marks on my forearm.
"Are you all right Joseph?" she asks.
"Yeah....you don't have to worry about anything." I tell her. Even though she was responsible for my the gash on my arm, it felt nice to have her tending to me.
"That doesn't sting?"
"Are you gonna kiss it and make it all better?" I tease.
"You wish!" she shot back. I was pleased to see traces of that little smirk on her lips as she excused herself.
Still, I was at a loss for something reassuring to say to Talia on my way out.
Turns out management discovered the next day that I wasn't making up the strike that blocked off the facility we were supposed to be dropping off the trailers at. Not only that, workers at other facilites that we were supposed to be dropping trailers off at were walking off the job. For us, this translated to a half day.
That meant reduced hours. Which in turn means I'll be coming home earlier than usual to a petite werewolf who I pissed off last night and who bit me this morning. Although I didn't want to head home right away, it wasn't as though I could circle the block all afternoon.
I had a fairly unrushed sit-down lunch at a mom and pop diner, trying to figure out what I'm going to do about Talia. I find myself wondering how often Talia had such vivid nightmares- that was the first time I had seen anything like that with her. Odds were pretty good that what I saw was a one-off, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do if they're recurring.
I figure I might as well stop and get some more groceries on the way home- partly to kill time and partly because Talia had been hinting she could use some more spices and condiments. I travel as far as a few blocks before something catches my attention.
Well now- What do we have here? I ponder as I pull into the intersection of Prescott and Erie. The intersection was busy enough that the right turn lane had its own little triangular-shaped traffic island. And I could see someone on it as I headed into the intersection.
Someone up ahead was waving a sign for Wooten's Car Wash. The locally run car wash had a reputation for attracting customers with pretty and scantily clad young women holding up signs at nearby intersections.
Whoever it was was petite and lithe, her tawney frame on display nicely thanks to a pair of denim cutoff shorts and a bikini top. Clearly another beastman-type monster girl- maybe some sort of kitsune or inari stuck at just the one tail? An Anubis? Nah- seemed a little too small and fair skinned to be the haughty werejackal mamono from the ill-defined Desert Kingdom. Werecat? I can't really tell with her back turned to me, but the tail and ears seem to be off. Still, even though she'd never be mistaken for a holstaur, Miss Car Wash sign girl has a nice little bod.
Something else gets my attention, though. From this distance, I can make out what appears to be a series of diamond shaped patterns sheared into the fur along her calves. And the dark, fluffy tail tapers off into a copper-frosted tip. Wait- are those....
Replica Runes? Just like.......
Oh fuck me....it's Talia.
I just spent the last 90 seconds eye-humping my wolfgirl housemate, even though I seem determined to remember as little more than the belligerent sack of skin and bones when she first barged into my place. Right after I gave her that whole spiel about how she shouldn't give up her virginity to me simply because I brought her some new clothes or a lukewarm cup of soda, no less.
But now- thanks to her Daisy Dukes and bikini top, I could see Talia was back to a healthy weight. She was waving a large sign over her head, giving me a nice view of her taut and supple belly, her slender waist, alluring hips and perky backside partially shrouded by that tail, doing a little shimmy with her back turned to me. She's occasionally lower the sign to wave at passing traffic with her right paw.
To be honest, the last time I saw her with a sign by the side of the road, she was in much rougher shape. To say she looks better would be understating the matter considerably.
Talia was on one of those little traffic islands for the right-turn-only lane and once again I'm trying to get the werewolf's attention from the driver's side of my vehicle.
"Hey Talia! What are you doing here!?" I call out, genuinely curious.
She turns around and her face brightens up a little upon seeing me.
"Oh! Hey! Didn't think I'd be seeing you here...."
The wolf takes a few steps closer and leans against the driver's side door of the truck. "Well....you seemed upset at how much that trip to the salon cost, so I thought I'd help out and get some part-time work." She begins to explain.
"You got a job? Doing what?" I asked.
"You're looking at it. I'm a sign girl for Wooten's Car Wash!" she beams with pride before launching into the corny jingle.
"♪ ♫ ♬Dirty car or shabby truck?♪ ♫ ♬
♪ ♫ ♬ Don't worry friends, you're in luck. ♪ ♫ ♬
♪ ♫ ♬So spick and span, you'll say "My gosh!" ♪ ♫ ♬
♪ ♫ ♬ Take some time for......"
Her ears fold back against her head as she begins to howl.
"A Awooooooooooooooooooo-ten's Car Wash ♪ ♫ ♬ "
I don't know how many times I heard that tired, hokey jingle playing on the radio or TV between innings during the ballgame. It predated the confirmed arrival of the first mamono by a few decades, but Talia's own unique and improvised version actually brought a smile to my face.
I was also pleased that the werewolf was showing some intitiative as well. But still, something bothered me a little. Sensing something, Talia spoke up.
"Hey- don't worry. Dinner will be ready at it's usualy time." she reassures me.
That wasn't it. After what happened last night and this morning, I didn't want Talia thinking I considered her a burden. I was trying to think of how exactly I should put it when she was suddenly bracketed by two skateboarders who had been using the crosswalk behind Talia. However, her singing and attire caught their attention.
"Hey good lookin'...." douchey skater boy #1 speaks says.
"Haven't seen you around here" man bun skater boy follows up.
"Hey guys..." Talia says flirtatiously to the duo as I'm grinding my teeth. Without even putting down her sign, she nods her head at their skateboards. "I'm not sure you can take those through the car wash, but we do sell a variety of waxes for sale that you could use."
"Oh right....ha ha...." man bun skater boy laughs weakly as he's checking Talia out from behind.
"So....you have a name, beautiful?" douchey skater boy #1 asks.
OK....this bullshit has to end right here and now. Although there's some cars behind me waiting for me to make my way through the intersection, I speak up making sure I'm heard by both Talia and the two skaters.
"Talia?" I call out. "Should I get anything to go with dinner tonight?"
"Well..." she says cloyingly. "If we're going to have ribs later on, I'll probably need some Italian dressing to use in the barbecue sauce."
It was a pretty innocent question, but judging from the look on man-bun and douchey skater's faces, they had to assume Talia was now talking to the man she was coming home to. If they jumped to the conclusion that I was her husband, boyfriend or even super-protective big brother, so be it.
"You got it!" I say. Knowing I just cockblocked two horny highschoolers, I give the duo my best trollface as I throw the pickup into gear- much to the relief of the vehicles behind me. Pulling away from the intersection, I see the two briefly wave goodbye to Talia in the rearview and go on to do other things that appeal to high school age douchey skater boys.
A thought occurs to me as I keep driving. It's something that kind of gradually snuck up on me, but I'm just now beginning to see Talia in a whole new light.
Somehow, some way, I knew that this wasn't exactly a new side of Talia that I was seeing. This wasn't a change as drastic as a caterpillar building a coccoon and then changing into a butterfly, but more akin to a dirty, ordinary looking rock being polished and cleaned to find a beautiful gem underneath- the gemstone was always there, even if you couldn't see it. The proverbial diamond in the rough if you will.
I wasn't 100% comfortable comparing my feisty, petite werewolf housemate to a shiny bauble, but still.....it began to dawn on me that there was something about her.
Something I enjoyed seeing each day and apprecitated having close to me.